This is the red trigger that launches Britain’s nuclear weapons

Defence Secretary visit to Faslane
This is the red trigger that launches Britain’s nuclear weapons

See this trigger?

It may look relatively harmless, but it could actually release the UK’s nuclear arsenal.

The man tasked with pulling the trigger on the UK’s nuclear weapons said the responsibility is ‘both an honour and a burden’.

It is the duty of Lieutenant Commander Woods to be ready at any given moment to launch a Trident missile from one of the country’s Vanguard Class submarines.

As weapons engineer officer he must be prepared to take the ultimate order from the serving Prime Minister and send one of the 60-tonne missiles on a journey to the intended target.

On HMS Vigilant, one of the UK’s four nuclear submarines, there is no red button as such, but instead a red, handheld trigger.

Once the device, modelled on the Colt .45 Peacemaker, is pressed, there is no going back.

Speaking from Vigilant’s missile control room, Lt Cdr Woods said: ‘Once the missile has left the submarine there is no self-destruct button.

‘Once it’s gone from here, it is effectively ‘fire and forget’ – it is going to reach its target.

‘Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are designed to be incredibly hard to stop and the Trident is by far and away the most capable, most reliable and best-performing ICBM in the world.”

When the signal is given to launch a missile, the Prime Minister’s message must first be verified and once this is done, preparations can begin to arm and launch.

Woods added: ‘Throughout the whole sequence we operate on the principle of two-man control.

‘There will never be a moment where a single person after the Prime Minister could have full control of the weapons system.

‘We will take the signal, authenticate its contents and make sure that the Prime Minister’s direction is valid – that it isn’t somebody trying to spoof us.’

Wow, reassuring.

‘We’ll then start preparing the missile for launch. This is a tremendously complex calculation that needs to bring a missile from an unknown launch point to the destination.

‘All the targets are prepared shoreside and are transmitted to the submarine – we wouldn’t know what the target is.’

The red trigger is the final break point in the launching sequence and pressing it will fire the Trident missiles with an unclassified range of 4,000 nautical miles.

He said: ‘We have to act on the orders of our political lords and masters. When you’re out at sea on patrol, then we don’t know the whole story – we have to trust that they know what they’re doing.

‘If we’re in the position of launching, then the deterrence has failed and you have to consider that the landscape of the UK from a political point of view will not be what it was.’

Asked how if feels to be responsible for pressing the trigger, the self-confessed ‘computer geek’ who has served with the Royal Navy for 16 years, said: ‘It’s both an honour and a burden.

‘An honour that our political lords and masters trust me with this sort of awesome responsibility, a burden because knowing what could be on your hands is obviously a heavy load to deal with.’


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